AFTER a nomadic summer, Garry Ringrose is back in Ireland's number 13 jersey for the World Cup opener against Scotland in Yokohama tomorrow (8.45am kick-off) and the Leinsterman is understandably welcoming the responsibility on his shoulders.
At his first tournament, this start was no guarantee. In the final two warm-up games he was used as a replacement at both wing and full-back while at various points during August he found himself cited as notional cover for the squad's half-backs too. If it seemed like Joe Schmidt was planning for him to fill a sort of super-utility role, the win over Wales two weeks ago only strengthened the argument. The performance of Robbie Henshaw in his seasonal bow underlined his importance to the cause, and with Bundee Aki having answered his critics a week prior, it seemed set that they would be the pair in the midfield against the Scots with Ringrose's versatility relegating him to the number 23 jersey.
Injury to Henshaw in Chiba scuppered those plans, even if Schmidt later rejected the notion that his preferred team had ever been set in stone prior to leaving for Japan.
"You're never really sure of one's place in the 31, let alone getting the chance to play in the first game so it's a massive honour for me to be able to do that," said Ringrose of the idea he'd been battling for his place.
"Selection is something out of my control, out of all our control, and the advice I would have been given from early on, right through school, and then when I started at Leinster, when I started (internationally) with Joe, was just focus on what you can control. That’s how hard you can train, recover between sessions and putting it all out on the pitch if you get lucky enough to play in the game.
“So from my point of view, I wouldn't really get too caught up or worried about selection. Obviously I would love to be picked and that’s what everyone’s aiming for but you don’t get too consumed by the permutations of what can happen or form.
"It's a dream come true (to play in a World Cup) but at the end of the day there's a job at hand and I can't get too distracted by that."
Speaking of distractions, how did the gifted midfielder feel about adding so many strings to his bow in past months? As his prospects of a starting place dwindled, surely he felt his varied skillset was proving to be more curse than blessing.
"Anywhere I can contribute to the team, no matter what the number on the back, I’m happy to give it a go and try and do it to my best," he says. "It was a bit of fun during the warm-up games covering, even getting on as a 22 (reserve out-half), although I actually came on in the wing in the end and then playing on the wing in the last two games.
"You try and have an appreciation for everywhere in the backline and I think we as a team know one backline never plays the same game, or the one game, if you know what I mean. There’s always injuries, guys in their positions in different form, selection-wise so things are always changing. You have to have an appreciation for the people around you and also an appreciation for different positions and what’s required in their role.
"So I think that would have helped me play in different roles, being able to pick it up a little quicker and listen to the guys around me, get advice from them and then ultimately give it a go myself.
“I think that’s something that we’d focus on in the group, that everyone has to be adaptable the best they can."
The most notable selection when it comes to positional switches this weekend comes only with Jordan Larmour at full-back and Andrew Conway on the wing rather than vice-versa.
And while it's an unfamiliar backline in terms of personnel, it is one that has featured together recently...against England in Twickenham. Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Ringrose and Aki all started that day, Conway joining them when he replaced Rob Kearney in the second-half. The defence in the record defeat to Eddie Jones's side was rife with misjudgements and miscommunications, something Ringrose has warned can't happen against a Scotland side who prey on indecision.
"They play such an expansive game, going wide-wide," he said. "It's stating the obvious but (Stuart) Hogg is someone that they'd want to get the ball in his hands because he's so dangerous. They'll utilise that connection between 10-15 and then everything in between.
"That's always a massive challenge but if you stack the line too much to deal with that challenge, their attacking kicking game from the half-backs is just as dangerous. They can expose you in the backfield. It's a massive challenge to deal with both.
"It's your reactions (more than the communication). There's a lot of noise out there on the pitch, a lot can be happening and you need that clarity. You have to react and problem solve together.
"Someone like Finn Russell, he has a skillset as long as my harm so you have to react quickly to whatever he does."
Rugby World Cup 2019
JOE SCHMIDT was handed a stark and jolting reminder of the towering, terrifying Everest that Ireland must conquer to avoid another devastating World Cup anti-climax.